Green Bay Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst won’t rule out the possibility of using the franchise tag on star running back Aaron Jones in the coming weeks as teams await final word on the 2021 salary cap.
Gutekunst was asked Tuesday about whether the Packers’ current cap situation made it a foregone conclusion that the team would not interested in using a franchise tag or transition tag on Jones for next season. According to Over the Cap projections, the Packers still need to clear about $11.45 million off their books for 2021 before the new league year begins on March 17, while the cost of putting a franchise tag on Jones is estimated to be about $8 million.
Gutekunst was clear, however, that tagging Jones is not something the Packers have taken off the table with a critical two weeks left until the start of 2021 free agency.
“We certainly could,” Gutekunst said Tuesday during a Zoom call with reporters. “I think it’s something we’re working through. I think, again, it’s not a philosophical thing to avoid it. I do think there are usually better ways to go about it, but certainly, if I think as we get down the road here over the next week or so, if that becomes what’s in the best interest for the Packers, I think we’ll do that. But at this point, we haven’t done that.”
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Should Packers Franchise Tag Jones?
Jones should command a lucrative contract if he is allowed to hit unrestricted free agency later this month. The 2017 fifth-round pick has gained more than 3,000 all-purpose yards and scored 30 touchdowns over his past two seasons in Green Bay, delivering consecutive 1,000-yard-rushing seasons for the Packers and establishing himself as an offensive supercharger.
The Packers aren’t blind to his success, either. According to ESPN’s Rob Demovsky, they made him a competitive contract offer that would have made him one of the five highest-paid backs in the league, but Jones rejected the offer due to the low amount of guaranteed money included and has since hired Drew Rosenhaus as his new agent.
Now, things get trickier for the Packers. On one hand, Jones has been a high-level contributor for their offense over the past two years with little sign of slowing down. On the other, they lack cap resources and already prepared for the possibility of his departure in 2020 when they drafted AJ Dillon in the second round.
If the long-term contract option is no longer in play, the Packers will have to ask themselves whether one more season of Jones — who could always decide not to sign his tag and not report for training camp — is worth sacrificing a sizable chunk of their cap. The answer seems to be no for right now, but it depends on how much higher the 2021 salary cap ends up being from the $180.5 million floor that most projections are based upon.
There is no word on when exactly the NFL will officially set its 2021 salary cap.
History Suggests No Tag for Jones
The Packers have not placed a franchise tag on a player since doing so with defensive tackle Ryan Pickett more than a decade ago, giving the impression there may be some philosophical resistance to the idea of using tags for both Gutekunst and predecessor Ted Thompson.
“It’s very much a case-by-case (basis),” Gutekunst clarified Tuesday. “It’s not an organizational philosophy not to use it. I think every situation is different. It is a tool that is out there for us to use if it makes sense for the football team. Whether it’s the franchise tag or transition tag or some of the other avenues to retain players, it’s always something we’ll look at. If that’s the best situation for us, then we’ll go ahead and use it if we need to.”
Things worked out fine enough with Pickett back in 2010. The Packers applied the tag on Feb. 25 but less than a month later agreed to sign him to a four-year, $28 million deal, keeping him in place as a key part of their run defense. A year later, he was a Super Bowl champion and went on to finish out his deal with the Packers before playing one final season in Houston.
Since then, though, the Packers have resisted tagging players and are the only NFL team that did not use a tag between 2011 and 2020. During that time, players such as Sam Shields, B.J. Raji, Randall Cobb, Bryan Bulaga and Mason Crosby have all been tag candidates, but other solutions were found in every case.
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